Events, Photos

Arlington Town Day

September 14th was Arlington’s 2019 Town Day. That’s 43 annual Town Days since 1976, put on by the town to showcase everything Arlington has to offer. This Town Day started at 9:30 in the morning with a flag-raising ceremony on the day’s main stage in front of Arlington’s town hall. Steve Katsos, of ACMi’s Steve Katsos Show, MCed the performances on the main stage, which included Arlington High School’s cheerleaders and jazz band, as well as several bands and a chorus. ACMi recorded the event to broadcast on Arlington’s public TV channel.

Arlington closed Massachusetts Avenue from the Pleasant Street to Jason Street, a stretch of about a third of a mile. Booths lined the street on either side. Restaurant and fast food booths filled the air with the scent of food and fry oil. Clowns, face painters, and carnival game hosts entertained the hundreds of children in attendance. Nonprofits, churches, and town institutions like the police department and ACMi filled some of the booths.

The rest were occupied by businesses ranging from banks and orthodontists to kombucha brewers and martial arts studios. Arlington High School sports teams held a big bake sale to raise money, decorating cupcakes onsite and walking up and down Mass Ave to sell their wares.

The Coast Guard parked a boat in the lot in front of the Robbins Library and taught passersby about water safety; behind the building were pony rides for kids and the library’s annual book sale. Animal Control officer and falconer Diane Welch showed off her birds of prey; behind Town Hall, more approachable animals could be found at the Animal Craze petting zoo.

Beyond the barricades at Pleasant Street in the yard of the Jefferson Cutter House was Arlington’s weekly summer beer garden, hosted by Somerville’s Aeronaut Brewery. Artists had booths in the yard too, selling everything from tie dyed T-shirts to ceramic sponge holders to the beer garden drinkers.

In past years, Arlington has also thrown a Town Night the Friday evening before Town Day, with more carnival games and a fireworks display. In 2018 the Arlington Town Day Committee voted not to host Town Night because it would be too expensive. That year, the Elks Lodge offered to host Town Night, and Arlington resident Katie Garrett raised money to offset the cost of the fireworks. This year, there was no Town Night.

Standard
Events, People, Photos

Arlington Astronomy Nights

The year was 2003. Jeffrey Alexander stood in line to look through a telescope on the roof of the garage of the Museum of Science. Mars was passing particularly close to earth. He, along with many others, wanted to see it. It tickled his fancy, he says, that so many people were excited to gather for this celestial event.

In 2005, Earth and Mars were due to be close to each other again. Alexander, who had recently moved to Arlington, decided to have a viewing party at Robbins Farm Park. He teamed up with Friends of Robbins Farm Park, the Arlington Recreation Department, and some locals with telescopes to make it happen. Over the next 2 years, he threw a couple more stargazing parties. Leslie Mayer, a member of the Park & Recreation Commission, suggested that Alexander should start a regular series of stargazing events so it would be easier to get permits from the town. And so Arlington Astronomy Nights was born.

For 11 years now, Alexander has hosted 4 or 5 Arlington Astronomy Nights every summer. At its busiest, 70 to 80 people might show up. Astronomy Night is popular with parents and their kids, but amateur astronomers and passersby of all ages come to look through Alexander’s telescope.

“Plenty of teens in the park want nothing to do with us, but some take a peek and will allow themselves a little sense of wonder at the world that they’ve been socially molded to pretend doesn’t move them. If they’re like me, they can’t help but feel a brief sense of the smallness and insignificance when gazing at objects vastly, incomprehensibly larger than themselves,” Alexander says.

This past Saturday was the last Astronomy Night planned for this summer. Clouds covered up the moon and Jupiter, the night’s main features, but Alexander entertained the crowd by sharing a map of the moon with them, showing them Zakim Bridge in Boston and the stars Mizar and Alcor in the constellation Ursa Major through the telescope, and handing out glow sticks.

There’lll be more Astronomy Nights next summer. Those interested in attending future stargazing events can sign up for Astronomy Nights emails online. Mars will be having another close approach with Earth next fall, too.

Jeffrey Alexander breaks down his telescope at the end of this September’s Astronomy Night.

Alexander, who studied computer science in college, now leads a software team at Oracle Labs. Astronomy may be a hobby for him, but it’s easy to tell from the way he talks about it that it’s close to his heart and he loves to share it with others.

“There’s really nothing better than the exclamations I hear and expressions I see on peoples’ faces the first time they look through the telescope,” he says. “Sharing the passion that I have for observing the night sky, even if just for a moment at a time, makes it worth doing year after year.”

Standard
Events, Photos

Fido Fest

A warm summer night on Spy Pond Field. A pink sunset. Popcorn. Bubbles. Lots and lots of dogs. And lots and lots of dog videos on the big screen. It can only be Fido Fest.

Arlington Community Media, Inc (ACMi), Arlington’s public access television station, and dog-focused social group and nonprofit organization Arlington Dog Owners Group (A-DOG) have now orchestrated three years of this dog-themed film festival. ACMi and A-DOG founded Fido Fest as a paean to dogs and their loving owners.

An ACMi volunteer wears a dog mascot head.
A-DOG organizers Jen (L) and Kathleen (R) sit in front of the guess-how-many-dog-treats game at the A-DOG booth.

The event is sponsored by A-DOG, by pet-sitting/dog-walking business BlueSky Dogs, and by real estate agent Judy Weinberg at Leading Edge Real Estate. The Capitol Theater provides bags of “pupcorn”. Anyone can submit a video of their dog, from an amateur home video to a polished narrative short film.

Local band Stanley and the Undercovers played 50s and 60s rock standards, including, of course, “Hound Dog.”

While waiting for the main events, Fido Fest attendees played with bubbles, hula hoops, and an oversized Jenga game.

As the sun began to set, people brought their dogs up to participate in the dog pageant, competing in categories like Smallest Dog, Most Wags, and Dog-Owner Lookalike. Every dog who entered won.

As darkness fell, the main show began: the films. Everyone settled into beach chairs or sat on the ground to watch dog-themed content ranging from home videos to short documentaries and humorous Vine-style clips. The audience laughed, sighed, and barked. And at the end of the night they went home with their friends and families, on two legs, four wheels, or four paws.

Note: This article was updated 6:30pm August 4, 2019, to add that Judy Weinberg also sponsors the event.

Standard
Events, Photos, Places

Independence Day at Robbins Farm Park

Arlington does not do its own Independence Day fireworks, though sometimes it will bust out a few for Town Night after Town Day in September. But every year on July 4th, Boston launches a large fireworks display over the Esplanade. And every July 4th, Arlingtonians gather at Robbins Farm Park to watch them.

Robbins Farm, about seven miles away from the Esplanade, is located high on the east side of the tallest hill in Arlington Heights (the Park Circle Water Tower is at the hill’s peak). When the air is clear, most of the city of Boston is visible from the park. Locals call it Skyline Park. And Skyline offers a surprising view of anything happening above Boston and Cambridge, from a pink sunrise to a fireworks show.

In the past, Arlington has hosted a formal event at Robbins Farm on Independence Day, with an inflatable screen to show televised coverage of the annual Boston Pops concert and subsequent pyrotechnics. However, the grass on the park’s recently refurbished sports fields has been too fragile to support the event’s heavy foot traffic for a few years, and the town has fenced those areas off. A large audience showed up to watch anyway, avoiding the fenced areas to set out blankets and beach chairs. An ice cream truck offered refreshments against the hot, humid night.

Children ran through the slippery grass as their parents called cautions after them. Distance dampened the fireworks’ explosions to muffled pops. It was a pleasant, quiet alternative to the crowded chaos of going to see the fireworks on the Esplanade itself.

As fun as the fireworks may have been, an uncritical celebration of America felt more inappropriate than ever in 2019. This country is doing horrible things to the people who migrate here for safety. Arlington is far from America’s southern border, but ICE is detaining community members in the Boston area too. The Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network is working to free people being held in the South Bay Detention Center and support their families. You can read more about their efforts, donate to them, or volunteer to help through their website.

Standard
Events, Places

Feast of the East

This past weekend, Capitol Square threw its 21st annual Feast of the East, an outdoor event to celebrate East Arlington’s community and local businesses. The event takes place along Mass Ave in East Arlington. Mass Ave, Arlington’s main street, stays open during the event; police block off parking lanes for businesses to set up booths in.

The Fox Library kicks off the event with its Fox Festival Parade, after which local brass bands play outside for the rest of the afternoon. Restaurants offer street food from cultures all around the world, and “Kid Zones” around the event have entertainment ranging from clowns to sand art for Arlington’s younger residents.

It’s a great way to spend an early summer day in Arlington.

Standard
Events, Places

Arlington Greek Festival

Every year, Arlington’s St. Athanasius Greek Orthodox Church puts on a festival to celebrate Greek culture: its food, music and dance, religion, and fashion.

Mata Xios Boutique

St. Athanasius’ has been around for 55 years. It was originally located at 735 Mass Ave, which is now the Highrock Covenant Church. The St. Athanasius parish expanded significantly over time as more Greek immigrants and Greek-Americans moved to Arlington; in 2004, the parish moved to 4 Appleton Street, the former home of the St. James the Apostle Roman Catholic Church. A few years later, St. Athanasius’ began throwing its annual festival, using the new location’s sizable parking lot as an event venue.

The church sets up a 60-foot white tent, underneath which are stations selling everything from spanakopita and gyros to loukoumades and baklava, booths selling imported Greek clothing, crafts, jewelry, home goods, and religious items like crosses and nazar pendants.

The festival lasts for four days and features performances by local Greek musicians and dance troops. Some vendors have been coming to the festival for years. Art of the Lands has had a booth at every Arlington Greek Festival for the past decade.

Past the tent on the lawn of Ottoson Middle School, a rental service blows up bouncy castles and inflatable slides.

Other attractions for kids include dance activities and a place to make layered sand art.

Photos from the 2016 Greek Festival by the same photographer can be seen on Flickr here.

Standard
History, Photos, Places

Crusher Lot

Crusher Lot, Junior High West Woods, Ottoson Woods. The Shoe. The Rocks. This place, the wooded area between Ottoson Middle School and Gray Street in Arlington Heights, has a lot of names.

According to WickedLocal Arlington, the name Crusher Lot comes from the area’s original purpose: a small quarry where the town used a steam-powered stone crusher to make gravel for paving roads.

“Junior High West Woods” and “Ottoson Woods” both refer to schools that have stood by those woods: Junior High West through about the year 2000, and Ottoson Middle School now. Students cut through the lot, usually using the paved path that runs down the western side, to get from Gray Street to school.

Students have their own names for different parts of the lot: “Stairway to Heaven” for the stairs that lead up to the paved path, and “The Rocks” or “The Shoe” for the horseshoe-shaped retaining wall at the top of the stairs.

Members of the Facebook group “Proud to be from Arlington” who attended Junior High West remembered the woods and The Shoe as a relatively secluded place to hang out away from adults, somewhere the cool kids went to drink, smoke, neck, and set small fires.

“You were invited to the shoe by the cool kids. You’d never just show up there,” says group member Kim DeAngelo.

Update August 25, 2020: Some photos from this post are featured on the website Friends of the Crusher Lot. They have a great post about the history of Crusher Lot by historian Edward Gordon here if you want to learn more about the lot.

Standard
Events, People, Photos, Places

The Little Fox Shop

11 years ago, Susan Dorson and Amy Weitzman opened a nonprofit resale shop in the Edith M. Fox branch of the Arlington Library. They collected donations of toys, kids’ and maternity clothes, and childcare items like high chairs and strollers, furnished the store with any cheap or free furniture and clothing racks they could get their hands on, and recruited volunteers to help run the store.

Faith, a Little Fox Shop volunteer, organizes clothes to put out in the store.

When The Little Fox Shop first opened, it was only open one day a week, but Dorson, Weitzman, and later Stephanie Murphy (a store manager who joined about 7 years ago) were able to gradually increase the store’s operating hours until it was open 5 days a week. The Little Fox Shop raises funding for the Fox Library. According to its website, the store’s revenue has enabled the library to host more events, decorate, buy new fixtures, books, and video games, and stay open two more days a week.

Last year, the store was more popular than ever, Dorson says. The community loved it. And it came as a surprise to the store’s patrons and managers when it closed unexpectedly that August. WickedLocal Arlington reports that the Friends of the Fox board, who were in charge of dispersing funds raised to the town and approving major funding expenditures for the shop, fired Dorson and Murphy after a series of disagreements about Dorson and Murphy’s request for a raise and for the board to consider them payroll employees instead of volunteers with a stipend. Dorson says she was hurt the board was unwilling to negotiate with them; the store is very important to her and she, the store’s employees and volunteers, and the community were all disappointed to see it shut down.

Arlington’s government opened a Request for Proposal for applicants to open a resale shop in the space the shop had been. Dorson and Murphy teamed up with Weitzman to apply to reopen The Little Fox Shop. They won.

Dorson and volunteer Sandy discuss where to put a donation the shop received.

“The community support has been tremendous,” Dorson said. “People seem really excited for us to open up again.” After two hectic weeks of collecting mountains of donated goods, cleaning, and organizing, Dorson, Murphy, and their staff reopened the store on May 1st.

A parent shops for clothes during the grand re-opening.

The library threw a grand re-opening event on May 11. Dozens of parents and kids showed up to drop off even more donations, browse the newly set-up shelves, and eat donut holes. The store was noisy and crowded — at one point, a line stretched from the checkout counter to halfway through the store — but the managers and volunteers kept everything moving and organized with smiles on their faces.

Volunteer Victoria rings up a customer.

“[Running the store has been] kinda like raising a child,” Dorson says. Her kids were three and five when the store first opened. This year, her older son is a junior in high school and starting to think about college. And now that the Little Fox Shop has re-opened, she and Murphy have one more child’s future to think about again.

Standard